Protecting a Business against Ransomware and Scams

Every day, every month there is a new threat to being able to conduct business effectively and efficiently. How do you protect a business from the threat of disruption whether it is a scam, virus, ransomware or simple network or internet failure?

Dr Hossein Sarrafzadeh, director of the Centre of Computational Intelligence for Cyber Security at Unitec Auckland said ransomware affected tens of thousands of people and is estimated to have profited the criminals to the tune of US$1 billion in 2016.

The majority of cyber-attacks in New Zealand still go unreported, though figures released by New Zealand’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) this year showed that attacks have more than doubled since 2011.

Scams continue to become more sophisticated using modern technology to make fake emails, invoices, and websites appearing legitimate to even the most astute business person. These scams have devastating effects on businesses by eroding the investment they have made in their reputation, increasing operational costs and in certain cases crippling the business from operating.

 

This article looks at how a business can avoid becoming a victim of a scam by ensuring they have the right support and systems in place to minimise the risk of disruption.

Why does size matter?

Larger organisations have the resources, time and budgets to invest in ensuring they are not subject to an attack. As the headlines indicate even with this effort they are not always successful in defending themselves.  The reality is that as smaller organisations are hampered by the amount of money and resources they can spend on IT, means that these organisations are an easier target for the cyber criminals.  The cyber-criminal finds it easier to get in and often it takes longer to detect meaning more havoc created.

Smaller organisations are often a means to access and breach larger organisations. Why? Because the smaller organisation is often the weakest link (security wise) in a supply chain relationship thereby providing an entry point to the larger business partner.

What are the key elements to protect Business Continuity? 

One must ask if the IT environment something that can just be left alone or does it need to be looked after? The answer is obvious it needs to be managed and looked after, it needs somebody who is accountable and responsible for ensuring that the risk is minimised.

For smaller organisations this leads to either employing a resource or developing a relationship with an IT Service provider who is accountable. It makes sense to develop a relationship where the provider is on the front foot and is monitoring all key elements and maintaining an organisations systems in advance of something going wrong. This is commonsense as it is about protecting against a major disruption to a business.

The key components that need to be looked at are:

  • Data back-up/ Business continuity
  • Security of endpoints
  • Network configurations, performance and access
  • Email access and security
  • Software up to date
  • Patch management (ensuring your users are up to date on all updates to the operating system or the Anti-Virus software is the latest.)
  • Website performance and content filtering
  • Password management
  • Monitoring

The key element for a business owner is to understand how this approach shifts the nature of the relationship with your IT provider from being reactive to proactive. It means the IT provider is preventing breakdowns instead of reacting to a break down. This means a monthly fee for the maintenance rather than a call out figure. It means the provider is monitoring and using tools to remotely manage and perform maintenance activities.

What does this cost?

The key thing to remember this is an investment in ensuring a business is not disrupted. Some providers will charge per device; others will charge a monthly figure based on complexity of what they are managing; others will charge based on per user.

As a business owner understand what is included and what is not and what service agreement does the provider use. For instance, at Computer Troubleshooters we provide a 100% guarantee. Contact us now for more information.

Final Thought

Change is hard to accept for anybody and in the case of IT management it is hard for people to see the monthly outlay as an investment in their future. But this is exactly what it is. It is a strategic investment that allows a business to minimize the risk of disruption and ensure it can continue to grow and develop.

Sources of information for this article:

Watchguard: The Cyber Crime Guide for small and midsize business

Datto: WannaCry the ransomware Crisis explained

Stay Smart Online  Small business guide Protect your business in 5 minutes

Cert NZ Petya Ransomware Campaign

Increasing Business productivity: Leads to greater success?

Increasing Business productivity

For every business owner, no matter what size of business you are managing knows that a key to success is ensuring that your business is increasing staff productivity. Why? Because the more productive you are means that you are increasing the output of the business at a lower cost per unit of output which means an increase in profits. In simple terms getting more done with less.

What is the role of technology?

The answer to that is quite simple as technology permeates our daily working lives. Think about what life was like with no mobile phones, no email, no internet, no electronic calendars, no collaboration tools and technologies like Skype. Technology today is so cost effective that all businesses can now afford to use these technologies to increase productivity.

Increasing Business productivity is the absolute focus of Microsoft Office 365. It is about ensuring that staff have access to: email 24/7 on any device that they use, remote access to data through the cloud and being able to work on that data via software such as Excel and Word etc.

One of the keys for every small to medium business is to ensure that technology is being managed and implemented across the business in a smooth and seamless manner so that their people are working at optimal levels to maximize the businesses productivity resulting in the best possible results.

How does technology impact on business productivity?

Overcoming the challenges of executing on a business strategy daily is where technology has the biggest impact for businesses. Using technology to create automation of tasks allows employees to communicate faster and effectively, give employees an ability to focus on the priorities that will deliver the results that the business is looking for.

When assessing business productivity tools such as MS Office 365, it is imperative that the business understands how it will help?

How?

  • Create an open and communicative environment.
  • Connect teams virtually within the company.
  • Motivate your employees using technology.
  • Monitor business productivity and employee progress on goals. Analyze performance
  • Create a flexible workforce no matter where they are they can access what they need
  • Stay secure and compliant.

How can Computer Troubleshooters help you with Office 365?

The team at Computer Troubleshooters can help you across all stages of your implementation, from assisting you to identify the plan you need, implementing the package including the setup and migration of your email to Microsoft Office 365, to the ongoing management of your solution under a monthly subscription plan. Contact your local Computer Troubleshooters to get started.

What are the key benefits for Business Owners?

Some things to think about are:

  • Capital investment– do you prefer to invest to upgrade systems or use a pay as you go subscription model?
  • Space and operating requirements – do you need to run your own infrastructure?
  • Maintenance – would hosting dramatically reduce staff or outsource costs for your IT support?
  • Scalability – will you need to add or reduce users in the future?
  • Operating control – can you trust an external IT expert to remotely manage your systems?
  • Applications – can you use hosted applications or do you need to host locally?
  • Data usage and file sizes – are your business characteristics suitable to use hosted applications?
  • Broadband speed and capacity – can your internet bandwidth handle hosted usage?
  • Statutory data retention – does your business have a requirement to hold and protect data?

By implementing Office 365 will productivity increase?

Productivity does not increase simply by implementing Office 365 it is important that you educate your staff in how to use the technology effectively and to have identified a range of business processes and activities that can benefit from the technology and make certain you get the buy in of your staff to those changes. The lesson to remember is to have a plan of action for the change you are introducing to your business.

Counting the True Cost – Cyber Security Breach

Cyber security breaches are in the news every single day of the week. Yet every day I hear another story about a small business that has had a cyber security breach. When talking to the owners, the anger, frustration and disbelief is evident to see. The shock is expressed in the following words; this is costing me so much, it’s the inconvenience, it’s the damage to my reputation and worst of all I am losing customers and I know they will not come back.

What is the cost for small to medium business?

  • The statistics on the cost to small business are hard to establish but one can only suspect that if big business is $142 per compromised record (Ponemon Institute Research report 2016) that is something similar for small to medium business.
  • From my personal experience, I know a podiatrist whose business incurred a breach of their booking system that took three months before their business was back to normal. Even after this time they continued to lose customers. The Ponemon Institute Research Report 2016 clearly indicates that the loss of business customers is the largest financial consequence for an organisation that experiences a data breach.
  • A breach becomes more costly to resolve the longer the breach remains undetected.

Is a small to medium business subject to fines?

All businesses no matter what size are subject to privacy laws. Currently our NZ Privacy Act which went into effect in 1993 contains breach-related penalties from $2,000 to $10,000. New Zealand’s privacy commissioner is now recommending new civil penalties against companies of up to NZ $1,000,000 for a “serious” data breach to keep NZ up with sterner penalties adopted by Australia and the European Union. Ultimately there is significant accountability on businesses to keep customers’ private information secure or face potentially large fines as well as bad publicity and damage to their reputation.

Why is small to medium business a target?

This may be obvious but every cyber- criminal is looking for a soft target, in effect every small to medium business has more information (data) to target than an individual consumer and, because of resource restrictions and lack of knowledge they have a less secure environment than a larger organisation. This is not only in terms of software but also in having security policies that are effectively implemented. For example; user training, passwords, network access, usage of personal devices and external storage devices such as USB sticks.

Too often small business owners are not proactive because they do not believe they have anything worth stealing.  This is not the case as every small to medium business holds customer credit card information, customer personal details such as bank details and emails.  Every bit of information is useful to a cyber-criminal who can make money, for instance, by selling an email address.

Are the hackers and cyber criminals becoming more sophisticated?

The short answer to this question is YES. In the 12 months to June 2016 the NZ National Cyber Security Centre reported a 78% increase in cyber security incidents over the previous year. Our Australian neighbours (Australian Cyber Security Centre Threat Report 2015) identified that the number of cyber criminals with capability will increase, that the sophistication of the current cyber adversaries will increase making detection and response more difficult, ransomware will continue to be prominent and there will be an increase in electronic graffiti such as web defacements and social media hijacking. All this is occurring because every day no matter what size business you are there is a greater reliance on technology to run and conduct a business. The cyber-criminal is aware of this.

How to minimise and protect your small to medium business against a cyber security breach or attack?

Suggested guidelines for protecting your business are:

  • Complete a risk assessment so you are aware of the areas you are most vulnerable. The suggestion would be to complete this with an IT expert, or use the NZ Government sponsored Connect Smart for Business SME toolkit as a starting point.
  • Educate your staff about the various types of scams such as ransomware. Ransomware is a piece of malware that is often sent via email and when executed it kidnaps your machine via encryption that blocks the user from accessing their machine. The kidnapper then demands payment for the decryption key. Ransomware is often referenced as Cryptolocker, Cryptovirus or Cryptotrojan. Examples include NZ Police notifications, Courier and Post deliveries, Inland Revenue Office, Microsoft support etc.
  • Ensure you have policies that are enforced around passwords.
  • Use up to date security systems such as anti-virus software, ensuring firewalls are in place, proper controls around network access.
  • Ensure you are backing up your data and protecting sensitive data in accordance with the privacy laws of New Zealand.
  • If you have limited IT capability and resources, consider the proactive approach of engaging an IT service provider on a managed services contract.
  • Have a remediation and recovery plan for a cyber security breach.
  • Take insurance against a security breach.

From a technology viewpoint aim for the following:

  • End user security – workstations, laptops and mobile devices all have anti-virus malware protection, scheduled back up and regular preventative maintenance.
  • Centralised user control and back up – critical company information and local files need to be protected and still require regular back up, preferably with offsite duplication to the cloud.
  • Unified threat management and content filtering – can offer maximum external threat protection and enhanced business productivity to your internal network.
  • Disaster recovery and data restoration – business continuity can only be guaranteed with adequate backup and recovery procedures in place

The four key elements in thinking about preventing cyber security breaches are to know your environment, to secure your environment, effectively control your environment and proactively monitor your environment.

The best approach is to make sure that the challenge of cyber security is at the forefront of the business owner’s mind and that of employees.

References:

Bank Info Security

National Cyber Security Centre

The Privacy Commissioner’s Office

Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network

Ponemon Institute; IBM sponsored 2016 Cost of Data Breach Study Australia

How to protect your family from cyber threats?

Do you have young children who risk being exposed to pornographic or inappropriate websites?

Do you feel you should control the type of applications your children use and the amount of time they spend on the internet on websites such as social media?
Are you worried your children are using gaming, gambling, or in-app purchasing applications?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you are part of a growing movement of concerned family’s’ who are struggling to control their childrens’ exposure to the internet.

Why is access to internet content so hard to control?

There are 3 main reasons why internet consumption by children is hard to control:

  1. Multiple Access – The internet can now be accessed in a variety of different ways. Traditionally the home network was the only access method for most families. Now we have access by mobile data access via 3G & 4G networks, plus the increased availability of free Wi-Fi public access networks, then the additional opportunity of roaming as guests on other private Wi-Fi Networks. Internet access is now available everywhere so managing access through gatekeeping devices such as routers is increasingly ineffective.
  2. Multiple Devices – With internet access everywhere comes the proliferation of multi device access with many children now using a range of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and workstations. Internet access is now available almost anywhere on any device, so managing access of devices is increasingly difficult.
  3. Knowledge – Our children are developing skills and shared methodologies that can circumvent traditional control network mechanisms (such as routers) and device profile user management (such as Windows Parental Control).

With anywhere anytime internet access from multiple devices, is it still possible to regulate internet access to our children?

Thankfully development of cloud technologies has enabled user management to be lifted above the physical network layer and enables user profile management to be delivered across multiple access networks and devices. Effectively the cloud allows an additional layer of control above the traditional approach to user management and content control.

Here is what a cloud based portal can enable:

  1. Block porn and adult content
  2. Restrict access to social media
  3. Restrict access to YouTube and gaming content
  4. Limit access to mobile games and apps
  5. Limit app downloads and in-app purchases
  6. Disable device features including cameras
  7. Set restricted access periods and sleep times across devices
  8. Cover devices in and out of home.
  9. Managed from a single cloud based portal

Given all this is possible, how it is achievable?

As a business who has been help protect Australian and New Zealand families for over 20 years we have watched the evolution of different internet security software and hardware struggle to keep up with these changes. In our view, if families wish to take control of how internet is consumed they must consider using a cloud based portal to provide comprehensive protection.

To the best of our knowledge the most comprehensive and accessible product for family internet management is called Family Zone. Family Zone is a new generation cloud based product that allows for all these changes in technology from anywhere access from multiple devices.

Upgrade to a new Computer or get a Tune Up service?

Does your computer seem unresponsive, sluggish, and unreliable?

Do you feel you spend time waiting for things to happen on your computer?
Is your productivity slowing down as a result of a slow computer?

One of the most common questions we get in our business is “Should I repair or replace my computer?” While it is an individual decision there are several key factors that should help determine your course of action. Obviously, the price difference can be huge and the disruption painful, but what are the key determinants of your choice;

3 key determinants to upgrade your computer?

We suggest you use a 3-step process to determine the correct course of action:

  1. Computer Age; If your existing computer is over 3 years old the risk of catastrophic failure due to hard drive or part failure is much higher,and the overall expected life of a PC that is constant use is rarely over 5 years. Life expectancy is generally lower for laptops that are moved & carried around regularly. Doing maintenance on an old machine might not be the best answer, especially if you are critically dependent on it working correct & if it fails you will end up in an emergency.
  1. Computer Specifications: Check the specifications of your current computer; with the evolution of new software & applications, especially video applications such as Facebook and news services, means your current computer just may not be able to process fast enough to give you performance that is satisfactory.Most new computers now offer significantly more processor speeds & RAM than what was available a few years ago.If you are looking to run the latest versions of Windows 10, Internet browsers (like Google Chrome), Office 365 or Microsoft Office 2016 then it is difficult to get the maximum benefits without modern specifications. If your old computer has low specification components a Computer Tune Up may not resolve all your speed issues.
  1. Computer Maintenance:Assuming you have agreed the first 2 steps are not a problem; then if you are experiencing slow startups, slow application opening, application time outs or regular restarting requests this can generally mean your computer needs a Tune Up. A computer Tune Up is where we do a deep clean to remove unwanted programs and files then the operating systems cleaned of unnecessary bloat. Often just normal use on the web can accumulate,without your knowledge, thousands of small unwanted programs, cookies, and tracking code that ultimately accumulates slowing everything down. The final area of a Tune Up is defragging your hard disk, where the storage space can be reallocated and made more efficient, giving improved performance.

Just like servicing a car we suggest that even the best computer will need tuning at least every 12 months or more frequently if you’re a business user, this can be done using a maintenance plan with automated routines and processes that can be run remotely by your local Computer Troubleshooters.

Repair or Replace?

Given the 3 critical factors above and your individual circumstance you should have formulated your own view of whether you should repair or replace your computer. So what are the options?

Repair – You can simply call in an expert like Computer Troubleshooters to do a computer Tune Up to get your machine back to optimal performance. They will do a series of deep scans and maintenance processes that should remove the bloat. We also would recommend joining a maintenance plan that regularly does this process to keep you at the optimal performance level. Part of this is also reviewing your backup regime to ensure that you will not experience data catastrophe should a failure occur in the future.

Replace – Once you decide to replace your machine there are few options you can consider;

  • Upgrade – Simply replacing the hard drive on an existing computer with SSD (solid state drive) can significantly improve processing speeds and memory without the need to replace the full system. This also significantly reduces a key point of failure risk from an old system.
  • New Packaged– a new system ultimately will give you a new experience in performance, you just need to ensure the specifications will deliver on your expectations. Lower prices can often mean lower performance, you generally get what you pay for. We generally suggest a minimum of 4GB of RAM and an i5 or better CPU. Just bear in mind you may need to repurchase software that was on your existing machine.
  • New Custom – if you have a specific need or application we can help put together a custom-built system option that can take into account your specific user requirements. We can spec, order & install a system specifically for your needs. Ask us for a quote.

You can transfer all your data and settings on to your new computer so that your new machine is setup is the same as previously, this can be done relatively easily by your local Computer Troubleshooters. Just bear in mind that Windows10 is now the standard operating system for PC’s, so you may need to adapt to the new Windows environment.

At the same time we also recommend reviewing your backup regime to ensure your critical data is protected.

Optimal Computer Performance

Regardless of your situation whether it is repair or replace we can help you optimize your computer experience to help you get the best performance. You don’t have to put up with a slow computer. Give your local Computer Troubleshooters office a call and one of their technology professionals will be happy to evaluate the status of your current computer and help you choose the correct course of action.